Soon after assuming office, President Moon Jae-In of South Korea expressed a desire to improve relations with North Korea. He has now taken a step in that direction and has suggested that a combined team of both countries could take part in the 2018 Winter Olympics to be held in South Korea. He has also remarked that sports can go a long way to mend relations.

His initiative is praiseworthy and must include a clause that North Korea must put an end to its nuclear ambitions and shelve its plans of launching ICBM targeting the United States.

The proposal of South Korea

According to New York Times, President Moon Jae-in mentioned about this idea at the inaugural ceremony of a World Taekwondo championship. North Korea is not participating but had sent across a demonstration team and this was the first sports exchange after the new president took over in South Korea.

Both the countries had taken part in Olympic Games and international sports competitions with combined teams in the past and Moon Jae-in is keen to revive that mood. In case his idea of a unified team for the 2018 Winter Olympics is accepted by Pyongyang, it would be a milestone in inter-Korean relations. That, in turn, could help to bring peace in the Korean peninsula and improve relations and Seoul is hopeful that North Korea will agree to the proposal.

Unification efforts in the past

There have been efforts by both sides to make use of sports to break the ice and improve relations. In 1991, they fielded a joint team to an international table-tennis championship and also a soccer tournament. Later, in 2000, their delegates marched as one at the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics.

The same was repeated at the 2004 Athens Olympics. However, both times, they competed as separate entities.

Incidentally, similar efforts in the past had faced obstacles. These usually were on issues like the composition of the team and the number of players from each side – they wanted equal representation. Another sensitive issue was the head coach – should he be from North or South.

Similarly for training – should the venue be in the North or in the South. These are all political issues and could pose hurdles.

In case the unification experiment of President Moon Jae-in succeeds, Washington would have to recast its strategies because South Korea is one of its important allies. The United States has a strong presence in the region and is wary of the tactics of North Korea. Its continuous threats of launching a nuclear attack on American soil is a matter of worry. America has already positioned an equipment like THAAD in South Korea and conducts regular joint military exercises with it but, if unification happens, America would have to revise its thinking.